Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Chinese Burn

I missed Sunday’s episode of The South Bank Show, delving into the phenomenon that is Pixar. Apparently the documentary repeated Walt Disney’s edict that “for every laugh, there is a tear”, which seemed wholly appropriate for the get-together I had been invited to attend that afternoon.

The Bath House at the northern end of Dean Street was one of the pubs the circle of friends would meet up in. If it wasn’t always top of the list, a few of the chaps had made a point of holding their book launch parties there over the past years, so when news came that it was closing and the block would eventually be razed to the ground to accommodate the Tottenham Court Road exit for the coming Crossrail link, they decided to hold one last shout.

One pair had written their first book after being greatly encouraged by Troy Kennedy Martin to put it down on paper. They had been preparing to invite him when news of his passing was announced. So as well as saying goodbye to The Bath House, the party was a chance to remember him, along with scriptwriter and all round loveable rogue Tony Hoare who sadly died unexpectedly this time last year. In their stead a number of actors and actresses, writers, directors and producers who had worked for Euston Films turned up.

After a couple of hours at the bar, the party adjourned to the upstairs room where a spread had been laid on. Once everyone was sated a short clip reel celebrating Troy Kennedy Martin’s distinguished career in film and television was played. Before it ran the writer Trevor Preston, who had just come back to London from Kennedy Martin’s memorial service, which had taken place on the south coast on that one gloriously sunny day we had towards the end of last week, stood up and, with a tremor in his voice, said a few heartfelt words about his dear friend of well over thirty years.

Our good pal Dick Fiddy, a BFI archivist with a terrifyingly encyclopaedic knowledge of British television who had also attended the service, turned up and I fell into conversation with him, discussing the pros and cons of the new crop of US dramas. When we found ourselves at a table with Trevor Preston and directors Tom Clegg and Bill Westly. In that situation the wise thing to do would be to keep quiet and listen to them swap stories about the old days at Euston Films and beyond, so that’s exactly what I did.

Seated there, in no particular order, I heard about Bill Westly, back when he was First AD on Sweeney 2, picking up a shotgun used for a brief insert and being arrested by a passing plod because he didn’t hold the appropriate license. As the remaining crew jokingly denied knowing him and retired to the pub, producer Ted Childs was left to go and bail him out. Then one time the police liaison officer attached to The Sweeney looked down their list of stunt drivers and pointed out that most them had been, or still were, infamous getaway drivers.

Meanwhile, Tony Hoare, who would go on be the lead writer on Minder long after being nominated as the worst getaway driver ever, found himself behind bars when he was supposed to be writing an episode of The Sweeney. Although creative writing was encouraged, the fact that the prisoners weren’t allowed to write about their life of crime meant his script pages had to be smuggled out by a future president of the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain. For Trevor Preston, the success of his serial Out saw him return to various manors to thank the criminals who had helped with his research. In turn each of the underworld bosses who oversaw that particular patch were pleased to see he had based Tom Bell’s Frank Ross on them.

Though Ted Childs and Chris Burt, the producer of Reilly, Ace of Spies, might have been ready to raise a glass to the slow and painful demise of the once mighty ITV, I suspect they couldn’t help smile at the fact that, as Dick Fiddy mentioned to me after the event, with ITV1 dying on its arse compared to the success of their other channels, it must be embarrassing for the management that the archive programmes on ITV4 – many of which were produced by Euston Films – are so much more appreciated than the current output.

While it would have been ideal way to see out the afternoon, sitting and listening to their reminiscences, there were other people I needed to see. If the majority of Euston’s work had delved deeply into the worlds of police and thieves to bring a sense of verisimilitude to the work, the same couldn’t be said for Terry Gilliam’s singular flights of fantasy. At the bar I ran into André Jacquemin who had worked as the sound designer on The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. Back when I was working for an animation company that rented space in Prominent Facilities in Camden, André’s recording studio was practically next door and we were always running into each other.

The facilities manager at the time would regularly get prints of new movies and screen them mid–week in the small preview theater, sometimes months before their UK release date. There would be a lot of Hollywood action thrillers like Point Break and The Last Boy Scout and Gilliam, for whom these films would appear to be an anathema, would always be there, sitting in the front row, staring intently at the screen. When the credits rolled he’d leave without a word and I always wondered what he thought of those sorts of movies. Reminding André of this, he didn’t have an answer either.

After catching up with a couple of actress friends, I gravitated around to the writing partner and her assistant. With a new schedule in mind they saw the benefits of what I proposed and agreed to it far quicker than I expected. With that done it left me with more time to periodically sneak outside for a crafty gasper in the company of Rox, our wonderful Persian Princess, who I hadn’t seen since the birthday bash earlier in the year.

Although the party had been expected to wind down come early evening, the landlord was more than happy to keep it going well into the night. After all, The Bath House had served everyone well over the years. It didn’t pack everyone in like sardines or bombard them with music cranked up so loud that conversation was near impossible. Though I didn’t stay out long past my bedtime, for once I wasn’t actually the first to leave.

And while the title might appear to allude to the comment I made a couple of posts ago that was purely coincidental. Instead it refers to something Dick Fiddy told me that happened to a friend of his – an event that definitely mixed pleasure with pain. If you know a way of “unhearing” something, please get in touch. Because that was one story I’d very much like to get out of my head.


At 2:28 pm, Blogger Anne Hogben said...

Lovely story. Who was the future president of the Writers' Guild of Great Britain?

At 2:59 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...


Glad you liked it. It really was a wonderful send-off.

One story I heard but didn't mention, regarding TKM, was that he could be a bit notorious regarding deadlines, preferring instead to get the script just right.

During the making of Edge of Darkness he turned up on set with script pages that were finally to his satisfaction only to be told that particular scene had already been shot a couple of days earlier.

Thanks for the email address. A few people knew the person already so it's no big secret, but just in case I'll drop you a line in private.

At 5:06 am, Blogger Stephen Gallagher said...

I am, unfortunately, unable to resist imagining what that 'chinese burn' might entail.

At 4:54 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...


for your own sake, think of something else. The image is burned into my head and just the mere thought of it makes we wince.


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